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Cuomo proposes cutting marijuana penalty

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Rochester: Cuomo proposes cutting marijuana penalty
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Governor Andrew Cuomo has unveiled plans to lower the penalty for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Instead of facing a misdemeanor, offenders would only have to pay a fine. The biggest impact is expected to be in New York City, where marijuana possession makes up a large portion of so-called stop and frisk arrests. Zack Fink has more.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Marijuana was decriminalized in New York State in 1977, but there are inconsistencies.

Private possession of 25 grams of pots or less results is a violation but having that same amount out in the open becomes a misdemeanor and a person is subject to arrest.

State leaders are looking to change the law to have the lesser penalty apply to both. It is in response to complaints that young people who were detained during stop and frisk operations were getting arrested for marijuana possession, which was not the intent.

"The overwhelming majority of people who have been arrested as a result of the way the statute is currently written come from the black and Latino community," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries.

Last year, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered police to stop arresting young people who were ordered to empty their pockets and found to be in possession of marijuana.

"I understand the police commissioner's directive. First, I think it puts police in an awkward position to tell them enforce some laws, don't enforce other laws. I think that sets a bad precedent in general," Cuomo said.

The governor would need to make this change legislatively. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was at the press conference indicating support for it, but republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was not there.

""I haven't seen the bill, but like all other program bills that are sent to us, we'll review it," Skelos said.

The city's stop and frisk program has been fiercely debated. Mayor Bloomberg, a strong supporter, says the operations have led to lower crime rates.

The mayor was not at Monday’s Albany announcement, but his police commissioner was.
"Mayor Bloomberg totally supports this legislation. He hopes it passes in this session as do I," NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

All five of the city's district attorneys support the change. But others say it sends the wrong message.

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotaki said, "Well, I have concerns. I mean a proposal to decriminalize marijuana, even if its 25 grams is certainly something that I think sends the wrong message to our youth."

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